Divers, a tug vessel, and a crane barge crew from Resolve Marine were able to remove a LifeMed medevac plane from Unalaska Bay on Monday. It had been in the water since it crashed near the airport last week.
The three-person air ambulance crew was en route to pick up a medevac patient in Adak when the King Air Beechcraft aircraft went into the water about 100 feet northwest of the end of the Unalaska Airport runway on Jan. 16.
The LifeMed pilot, paramedic, and nurse were all rescued from a life raft and sustained no serious injuries.
Resolve Marine was contracted by Aero Air – the aircraft owner – to recover the plane.
A.W. McAfee, Resolve Alaska General Manager, said a nine-person crew secured and pre-rigged the plane on Saturday so it would be ready to lift out of the bay.
"We put our divers in the water from the Makushin Bay [salvage vessel] and we assessed the plane, where it was and its level of stability," said McAfee. "After that, we were able to close up the fuel vents to prevent any spillage of fuel into the water. We wanted to isolate that and secure that first. And after that we started to deploy rigging to the divers and pre-rigged the plane."
The crane bars they used to lift the aircraft required shutting down the runway. Rather than disrupt a number of scheduled flights over the weekend, the salvage company worked with the airport and decided to wait on removal until Monday, according to McAfee.
The whole process took approximately 12 hours, from the time the crew left the facility, lifted the plane, and transported it back to the dock. It took the Resolve Pioneer and a crane barge, with an eight-person crew, four divers, and a salvage master, to remove the approximately 16-foot plane.
"It's remarkable how fast everybody reacted and got out," said McAfee. "There were no injuries in the plane going down and no injuries in the operation, and that's very important to us. And we were also able to minimize whatever hydrocarbon release was there, so all that's good news, and it was a successful operation."
The plane had been sitting in 50 feet of water, and released an unknown amount of Jet A fuel into the bay, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
Officials determined there were approximately 440 gallons of fuel on board at the time of takeoff. They will be assessing how much was released now that the plane is on land.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game determined no animals appeared to be affected by the fuel release, and McAfee said there was no visible sheen on the water as of the plane removal on Monday.
Unalaska Bay is home to several federally listed endangered species including Steller sea lions, Northern sea otters, and Steller's eiders.
Resolve Marine is set to lift the plane from the barge and transport the plane back to the airport today.
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the crash.